The Rot on Our Campuses

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By Sarah N. Stern

Antisemitism has long been described as a sign of sociocultural rot that corrodes its host society from within. This rot afflicts American university campuses more than anywhere else in the U.S. This was vividly described by nine courageous Jewish students at a recent House Education and Workforce Committee hearing.

The students, Shabbos Kestenbaum of Harvard, Noah Rubin of the University of Pennsylvania, Talia Khan of MIT, Edgar Yadegar of Columbia, Hannah Beth Schlachter of the University of California Berkeley, Joe J. Gindi of Rutgers, Kevin Feigelis of Stanford, Yasmeen Ohebsion of Tulane and Jacob Khalili of Cooper Union told harrowing stories of harassment and discrimination, of being singled out for their Jewish identities.

Some went to their respective administrations with legitimate complaints and were summarily dismissed. Some were sent to the campus DEI office and were told that the office would not deal with complaints from “this particular ethnic group.” Others were sent to mental health services, as though these students did not go along with a viciously racist mob because of a psychological problem.

These universities, without exception, displayed extraordinary moral cowardice.
The results of this cowardice were described in Shabbos Kestenbaum’s riveting testimony. He described just three harrowing weeks in January.

“On Thursday, Jan. 4, I woke up to dozens of fellow Harvard classmates posting on the social media app Side Chat that Jews are both baby killers and pedophiles, lamenting the outsized role Jews play in media and politics, and arguing that ‘too many damn Jews’ live in this country,” he said. “I immediately flagged this issue to the Harvard administration. To this date, no immediate action was taken.”

“On Sunday, Jan. 21, the day before the spring semester was to begin at Harvard, I walked through Harvard Yard to discover that every single poster calling attention to kidnapped Jewish civilians was vandalized by horrific antisemitism,” he continued. “Some of the Jewish victims were compared to pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, whereas others accused Jews of orchestrating 9/11. In one particular instance, the vandals wrote ‘evidence needed, head still on’ on a photo of 10-month-old Kfir Bibas, the youngest hostage taken, who remains separated from his family more than 140 days later. I immediately flagged this issue to the Harvard administration. To this date, no immediate action has been taken.”

He went on to describe how, on Thursday, Jan. 25, “I received an email from a Harvard employee asking me to debate him in a secluded underpass concerning whether Jews were behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That night, that same Harvard employee posted a video to his social media waving a machete with a picture of my face and other prominent Jewish activists, declaring his intention to ‘fight’ and ‘have a master plan that he won’t get into right now.’

For three days, I had private armed security outside my house. I had armed security follow me to Shabbat prayer services for my own protection. While I immediately flagged this issue to the Harvard administration and to the police, this individual is still employed by Harvard.”

Each testimony was more harrowing than the last. Noah Rubin of the University of Pennsylvania described countless antisemitic incidents, culminating in a riot on Dec. 3, 2023.

In Noah’s words: “A mob of students, faculty, and additional extremists marched through our campus recording and live-streaming themselves vandalizing school buildings, lighting smoke bombs and screaming vicious chants in English and Arabic.”

“My Jewish friends and I locked ourselves in our dorm rooms,” he continued. “I had to cancel plans to work on my final project in the engineering lab because I was truly terrified. I couldn’t believe that I was experiencing a nightmare at the school I had once dreamed about attending. I stayed up past 4 am in disbelief, documenting what had happened in order to share with the administration. Unfortunately, there has been nothing done to prevent the night of December 3rd from repeating.”

Kevin Feigelis, a Ph.D. student at Stanford, opened his statement by describing the epithets that are routinely hurled at him and fellow Jewish students: “Dirty Jew,” “Monster,” “Colonizer” and “Baby Killer.”

He said, “These are the names we are given at Stanford: Labels that strip us of our humanity, our dignity and our identity. These are the names a dozen Stanford students hurled in my face one night in November as they surrounded me. They called ‘my people’ dirty Jews, that we’re disgusting monsters, that it makes them sick to look at me.”

These heroic young men and women are not ashamed to reveal their identities. They walk around with kippot on their heads and Jewish stars around their necks. They know that every time, they risk being assaulted just for being who they are.

This is evil. Jewish students are entitled to the same protections as any other minority group under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That is why it is critically important to pass the Antisemitism Awareness Act, which uses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. This definition includes examples of classic antisemitism against the Jewish religion and people, as well as today’s much more pervasive antisemitism against the modern Jewish state.

We need one uniform definition so that university presidents and K-12 principals understand that assaults on Jews for who they are do not depend on “context.” We have seen this movie before and it doesn’t end well. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and others have said, “What starts with the Jews doesn’t end with the Jews.”

Sarah N. Stern is the founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a think tank that specializes in the Middle East.

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